FilmSpace at Glasgow Film Festival: Connect; Under the Silver Lake; Out of Blue

FilmSpace is at the 15th Glasgow Film Festival, bringing a series of reviews on loads of new films. Film critic Calum Cooper covers another batch of films, including the directorial debut of Marilyn Edmonds, and the latest films from David Robert Mitchell and Carol Morley.

Connect – ★★★☆☆

Suicide is one of the worst epidemics affecting men of my age. We’ve been taught for so long that signs of weakness and displays of sorrow or sensitivity are to be bottled up and ignored – that they don’t fit an arrogant image of masculinity – that our mental health is collectively at an all-time low. This factor, as well as personal experiences, is what drove Marilyn Edmond to begin writing the screenplay, as she said in a Q&A after the film. She’s astutely aware of how serious this fact is. Her awareness and sensitive treatment of this issue ultimately amounts to a flawed, but nonetheless ambitious and well-crafted feature that displays much potential for Edmond.

Our main character is Brian (Kevin Guthrie). He is a young man living in North Berwick, and is experiencing signs of deep grief after a tragedy befalls him. When he contemplates suicide he is rescued by a Good Samaritan, Jeff (Stephen McCole), who takes Brian on as a volunteer at his care home in order to refocus Brian’s mind. While there, a friendship begins between him and care home employee/single mother Sam (Siobhan Reilly), one that seems destined to become something more. Has Brian found his reason to live, or is this another endeavour doomed to fail?

As a narrative work with a beginning, middle, and end, Connect is sometimes lacking. It’s not that there’s no story, or even a weak one – it’s just that it’s a bit reliant on tropes to keep the plot moving. Examples include an angry ex of Sam’s that seems to be more of a narrative obstacle than an additional aspect of the themes, and a third act conflict to drive Sam and Brian apart, only to bring them back together. It doesn’t take away from the motives of the film, but it does make it a little easy to predict what will happen, give or take a few loose plot points that seem deliberate, but to what effect I’m not so sure. It’s probably more to do with me and my tastes than the film itself, but I still couldn’t overlook those elements.

Simultaneously uplifting and harrowing, it’s not an easy subject matter to tackle, but I admire Edmonds’ resolve in doing so. To me, that warrants a viewing alone.

That being said, it’s how the film presents its themes and characters that ultimately makes it as hard hitting as it is. It’s more about inner turmoil than external conflict, and the way the film balances benevolent, classically Scottish humour and gorgeous cinematography with frightening sound and visual editing to make fear physical is as engaging as it is devastating. When Brian’s anxieties get the best of him, the sounds become sharp and piercing. The visuals become blurred and disorientating. It’s horrifying to experience, made all the more impactful by the benign interactions and stunning North Berwick sunrises that space them out, all of which could be seen as a contributing factor to the mask of content Brian, and many other men of today, wears to the people around him.

Yet it’s the way every character seems to have demons of their own that makes the film feel so organic. Brian may be the lead, but his sister, his parents, Sam, and even Jeff, all have something that they believe gives them a reason to live and keep going. If it were not for that they wouldn’t know what to do either. Brian is attempting to find his own reason, particularly in the face of such tremendous grief, and this is made very clear through the way he behaves, whether it’s doubting his musical drive or shyly grabbing a drink with his extroverted co-worker. Even without the humane, delicate performances of Guthrie and Reilly, we believe in Brian and his mental journey, making the scattered scenes of optimism all the more hopeful, and the dark scenes of conflict all the more heart-breaking. This is especially true with the way Edmonds chose to end the film, which packs one hell of a punch. I won’t give away which direction it goes, but I thought it brought the themes of the film round in full circle.

Examine the sum of all this and we’re presented with a good, occasionally great, film that maturely understands the weight of what it’s presenting. Simultaneously uplifting and harrowing, it’s not an easy subject matter to tackle, but I admire Edmonds’ resolve in doing so. To me, that warrants a viewing alone. The fact that she presents it in such an empathetic, thoughtful manner heightens the emotional drama, and displays real promise from her as a filmmaker. I for one cannot wait to see what she does next.

Under the Silver Lake – ★★☆☆☆

Under the Silver Lake feels as mercurial as the pool of water it references. Reflecting on the experience, I can’t say I was ever bored by it. But I don’t think it entirely knows what it’s trying to convey. That’s not to say there’s nothing below the surface. There’s bits of things. But they don’t seem to mesh into a cohesive whole, creating a film that I’ll credit for its unique style, but I sadly can’t say I’d recommend.

From the director of the 2015 horror film It Follows, a movie I really like, it stars Andrew Garfield as Sam, a horny slacker of a 30-year-old who struggles to pay rent and prefers short term pleasures over the grand canvas of life. He becomes infatuated with his beautiful neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough). They interact in her flat one night, but he awakes the next day to find her flat almost completely empty and Sarah nowhere to be seen. Determined to find her, Sam sets out for clues.

And from there good luck trying to piece together precisely what’s going on. I saw the film and even I was left scratching my head. Perhaps that was the intention, but I’m not sure if that’s for the better in this case.

We’re taken on a two hour and twenty minute journey that involves – and stay with me here – underground bunkers, comic book illustrations that may or may not be based on a real demon of sex and blood lust, secret codes within music and cereal box maps and, I think, cults between the homeless and rich. Don’t quote me on this however, for the film is so trippy that it’s hard to fully recollect anything without questioning your own memory and or psyche.

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It’s really, really strange. In a way, I commend the film for being as weird as it is so nonchalantly. It’s certainly not lacking in imagination – I’ll give it that. However, I found the way that it went about its ideas very meandering. I found it very hard to keep up with it. I struggled to remember what Sam had just done or figured out as the film progressed, yet I’m pretty confident that I didn’t miss anything either. The visuals are relatively interesting, and Andrew Garfield’s performance is as stellar as always, but Sam himself is too mundane a character. I didn’t find him especially strong or intriguing, and so my lack of investment in him only assisted my descent into bafflement.

Regardless, I was still somewhat on board despite how confused I was feeling as there do seem to be elements of substance and grander ambitions within. From what I could gather there appeared to be commentaries on the difference between art for money and art for passion, the avarice of the rich and how life is stacked in their favour, and short term pleasure versus life-long satisfaction.

These are all ideas that would make cool pieces of film on their own. But it really does feel like David Robert Mitchell is biting off more than he can chew here. Perhaps it’s a case of me missing something here, but elements of substance does not substitute legitimate substance. These things all seem crammed together to expand the story and potential themes, but it feels like superfluous overstuffing in an attempt to be cryptic.

Overall, Under the Silver Lake is a difficult film, but not necessarily in the way it was intended. It’s received a polarising reception from what I can see, and understandably so. More power to those who dug the film, but I sadly can’t say I was one of them.

Out of Blue – ★★★☆☆

Four years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Carol Morley’s The Falling, a film which I thought was artistically and wonderfully bizarre while also brimming with good ideas and a boldness for ambiguity. It greatly impressed me. Now Morley returns with another feature, an adaptation of Martin Amis’ novel Night Train, and it’s great to see the streak of ambiguity continue in a film very different to The Falling.

Where The Falling was an examination on sexuality and paranoia, ala Picnic at Hanging Rock style, I saw Out of Blue to be much more of a character piece. Patricia Clarkson leads as Detective Mike Hoolihan, a beleaguered officer in New Orleans who is faced with a disturbingly unique homicide. An astrophysicist at an observatory has been graphically murdered, and Hoolihan has to apply her unorthodox tactics to hunt down the killer. As she progresses through the story, uncovering buried truths, she has to confront realities about herself, as well as this case.

The term Out of Blue refers to an unexpected event, with the word blue referring to the sky, the same way a clear blue sky can give birth to a surprising thunderstorm. Given the numerous connections, visuals, and Easter eggs attached to astronomy and the stars above our heads, some of which Morley let us in on at the Q&A, it seems an appropriate title.

More so as the film is wildly unpredictable, both for better and for worse admittedly. It’s a real enigma as clues are unravelled, brick walls are hit, and the map of the stars constantly looms over our heads in hypnotic fashion. But it’s the kind of strange that fascinated me, and made me want to examine closer, as its noir thrills opened the doors for interesting case studies on human trauma and psyche. The murder victim, Jennifer, started showing signs of going insane while studying black holes, further adding to the mystery of the case. And Hoolihan has a lot of inner unpacking still to do, and spends much time reflecting on her choices, and how choosing differently may have impacted her current life, all while the stunning visuals regarding the cosmos reinforce how meagre an existence humanity is when compared to the colossal size of the universe.

It can be a little overwhelming at times with just how much there is to process visually and with its story, which in turn does affect the pacing. It’s the kind of film that benefits from a second viewing I imagine. Still, what kept me grounded was Clarkson’s layered performance and the sense of confidence Morley seems to have regarding the core messages of the story. We may not always know what’s going on, but the character of Hoolihan is sympathetic, complex, and driven, elevated by Clarkson’s allure and subdued emotion. She’s so well-realised that we can latch ourselves onto her and her journey, even if the rest of the story comes off as too mystifying.

The film seems to have been divisive among some audiences. Although I can see why that would be the case, I’m a reviewer who believes that ambition and passion should be championed, qualities Morley has displayed consistently with her films, and in person during the Q&A. Out of Blue isn’t perfect, but it intrigues more than it frustrates, and there’s clearly a line of thought being put into the way it’s crafted. It’s an interesting movie, and one that I believe further demonstrates Morley’s continuing audaciousness as a filmmaker.

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